While the Toronto Maple Leafs have endured a rough start to the 2021-22 season, they aren’t the only team going through their fair share of problems. Teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins have had their ups and downs early this season either with slow starts or injuries.
Even though the Maple Leafs have been healthy, in the event that the injuries start to pile up, they’re going to have to rely on players in their system to step up and earn some play time at the NHL level. The Toronto Marlies have a number of players who could be called up to jump into the lineup as they’ve all performed very well. Here are five players who have stood out early this season and can be potentially called up if an injury occurs.
From the moment the Maple Leafs brought Josh Ho-Sang in on a professional tryout, it seemed like it was destined that things would work out. So far, both the team and the player are reaping the rewards with his current play.
Ho-Sang is off to a really strong start with the Marlies as he has five points (all of which are goals) in six games. Two of those goals have come on the man advantage. He’s just under a goal per game and is already clicking at an incredible 33.3% shooting percentage rate. While that may not be sustainable, it’s still impressive as Ho-Sang is making his offensive presence felt on a team that has given him an opportunity for a fresh start and rejuvenate his career.
Ho-Sang had a really strong preseason with the Maple Leafs as he definitely made an impact with his awareness and determination when he was on the ice. It wasn’t quite enough to stick with the team, but he did earn an AHL contract with the Marlies. So far, things are looking great with his time in the AHL.
At the moment, Ho-Sang doesn’t qualify as a call-up option considering he’s on an AHL contract. However, the Maple Leafs could definitely sign him to an NHL deal in the event that they feel that he’s ready to be with the big club. It’s quite possible that the contract may not be too far off if he continues to produce like this.
In the event that he does join the team, Ho-Sang has shown that he’s capable of keeping up with the top players in a top-six role or even be a complimentary depth player with some offensive flare. In a similar situation to that of Alex Galchenyuk last season, he appears to have more upside than him as he continues to push to be in the NHL. He’s a player the team, and especially the fans, are rooting for as the potential is there.
Fresh off wining the Gagarin Cup with Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League, the Maple Leafs signed Krill Semyonov to a one-year entry-level contract. He had an average season with 26 points in the regular season and added an additional nine in the post season. There’s also some familiarity as both him and Ilya Mikheyev were teammates in 2018-19.
For many during the preseason it was a first glimpse at what the Russian centreman can do and many were impressed. Even though points and numbers may not seem like a whole lot, whenever Semyonov was on the ice something was happening. At five-on-five, he had a Corsi for percentage of 62.71 and was on the ice for three goals for, all of which were high danger goals.
Albeit a small sample size, Semyonov displayed great offensive awareness while also showing his defensive side in breaking up chances and creating turnovers with his aggressive play. It wasn’t enough to crack the roster, but it certainly didn’t go unnoticed as he was noticeable every time he was on the ice.
He seems to be fitting in just fine on the North American ice as he’s continuing his strong play with the Marlies. He currently sits first in team scoring with one goal and five assists in seven games. For someone who isn’t known for being an offensive player, he’s definitely showing his worth as he can chip in on the scoresheet and be a reliable playmaker.
Alex Steeves was a major stand out at the Maple Leafs development camp, though he has missed some significant time recovering from a shoulder injury. He ended up playing in one game, scoring the first goal of the tournament and definitely would’ve been one of their top players had he not been injured. But in that one game, you could see why the Maple Leafs signed him out of Notre Dame.
Since returning, it looks as if he hasn’t missed a beat at the pro level as he’s looking very dangerous offensively. He currently has two goals (one power play and one shorthanded goal) and one assist in two games played so far with 10 shots on goal. But it’s his drive and motor that has stood out in the early going of this season.
Steeves has an outstanding work ethic as he’s constantly searching and battling for the puck. He has a smooth stride and incredible speed, bearing down when he pushes off. He’s extremely dangerous off the rush, having the ability to leave defenders in the dust and has a powerful shot that makes a very dangerous offensive threat. He’s extremely dynamic and it’s showing.
Senior director of player development Hayley Wickenheiser already took note of his development back in September. “The way he’s built his off-ice conditioning is quite far down the line and he’s continued to put in the work,” Wickenheiser said according to TSN. “He’s got a good shot and he’s very powerful.”
Steeves definitely has the skillset and drive that would make him an ideal candidate for a call-up. He has the energy that makes him a potential fit in the team’s bottom-six and could easily push someone down the depth charts. He’s definitely one player that will continue to generate a lot of attention as he could’ve pushed for a roster spot this season if he was healthy.
Joseph Duszak was one of many players who stood out for the Maple Leafs at the rookie tournament in September. Signed out of Mercyhurst University back at the end of the 2018-19 season, he’s been pretty consistent at the AHL level and has taken major strides in his development. Eventually, he would sign a one-year, two-way contract this past August.
Over the last two seasons, he’s tallied 30 points in 48 games, which is good for a 0.63 points per game average. That strong production has carried over into the 2021-22 season as he has five points, all assists, in four games played.
Duszak may not be a regular NHL player, but he can still be utilized in a depth role as a serviceable call-up or even depth option. He possesses strong puck-moving abilities, patience and confidence when he’s on the ice. Without the puck, he’s still capable of making smart decisions and making great plays defensively.
This might be a bit of a surprise, but I’ve been really impressed with the progression of Kristians Rubins and his play at both ends of the ice. He’s played at the senior level representing Latvia at the World Hockey Championships in 2017-18 and 2020-21 and was a top three player named for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The Maple Leafs recently recalled Rubins in the event that Travis Dermott wasn’t able to play against the Tampa Bay Lightning as he was considered questionable. Rubins was eventually sent back to the Marlies. But it shows that the Leafs have faith in him for the future.
During the preseason, Rubins had some very strong underlying numbers, having a 61.36 CF%, and 67.86 shots for percentage when he was on the ice. At six-foot-five, 227 pounds, he’s very mobile and has good control of the puck when in transition. He’s got good awareness in the offensive zone to keep plays alive, generate scoring chances with his shot from the point and is a very strong passer.
Rubins is also very sound defensively. He’s got the awareness and vision to close in on the puck carrier and an active stick to break up plays and create turnovers for his teammates to pick up a loose puck. This two-way play has been on display this season with the Marlies. Keefe had high praise in regards to his play.
The Maple Leafs could use some size and strength on the backend, but he does have a little offensive jump in his game that can make him a strong option on the defense. The good thing is that he is waiver exempt, so he can pass through without getting claimed, which makes him getting a call more likely than not.
These names have stood out at different parts early on in the season in the minors for the Maple Leafs. Knowing that they have depth and talent in the pipeline in the event of a call up is a good sign that this team can rely on them to step in and play a big part.
Statistics from Natural Stat Trick.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.